Issue 178, Fall 2006
Robert Frost kept notebooks from the 1890s to the 1960s. More than forty of them survive, and they teem with thoughts about life, literature, philosophy, religion, politics, and science, providing a rich if jumbled map of Frost’s fields of mental play. One of the appeals of Frost’s poetry is its promise of what he called “a momentary stay against confusion” amid the complexity and despair of modernity. But in his notebooks he emphasized the ephemeral quality of moral order and often took pleasure in uncertainty and disarray. These previously unpublished fragments combine candor and cryptic evasion in much the same spirit that once moved Frost to tell a friend, “I have written to keep the curious out of the secret places of my mind both in my verse and in my letters to such as you.” The tumbling of Frost’s thoughts in the notebooks mirrors their organization—or lack of it. It is possible to date some passages, but it’s not clear that the entries follow each other in any deliberate sequence. As a result, Frost’s unassuming spiral pads and school theme books are full of silences, interstices, and leaps, which makes reading them an imaginative venture. So, for instance, the notebook that contains the passage transcribed below is labeled “Democracy”—and the word may be a key to that volume’s contents, or it may be a random jotting. It would be interesting to know, but as with the other transcripts and facsimiles that follow here, Frost’s voice is, as ever, its own reward. Far more than a working poet’s passing notes, these notebooks are full of wisdom.
Oh where oh where is the underdog gone
Oh where oh where can he be
That I always lavished my sympathies on
I don’t want to hear you put your lyric gift to such base and ironical uses.
Haven’t I had provocation.
What has anybody been saying to you.
Anybody has been saying Where is What has become of the sympathy I used to have for the poor. I used to write show it in my writing songs And now when [illegible] the chance offers I simply refuse to make the world state over for them.
You claim the right to change your mind and to even to be inconsistent.
Neither I never change my mind am Im nor am I ever inconsistent.
Yet you used to sing the sorrows of the poor and now refuse to vote for them.
I told—I never would have sung their sorrows if I had thought for a moment anything was
going to be done about it. I didnt mean to help bring on any revolution. Is this a world of dogs revolving so fast that my mind can’t keep up with them. I want my underdog to stay under long enough for me to get attached to him
As long as some dog is undesirable I dont see what you have to complain of.
A complete revolution would be all the way round to where we started from. Only a half revolution would put the bottom on top.
The philosopher says dismiss the idea of purpose. And in the same breath he speaks as if the purpose of everything was our purpose to come out on a mountain top level of peace and equality. He thinks we have something in us that wont be got the better of by our needs and greeds. He assumes we have no need of strengthening ourselves in human rivalry to hold our own against nature. Our dissatisfaction with we know not what enemy be the evolutionary thing in our bones—a strain—blind
He who stays out of waste and lives to save
His home his money or his very life
And Who does not join in the unselfish waste
Of everything who pays not daily tribute
To the eternal rubbish refuse heap of God
Better beware he will be held a cheat